East Kilbride training partners Calum McWilliam and Greg Kelly are both still on course for a second New Year Sprint title at Musselburgh Racecourse tomorrow after winning their qualifying heats at Meadowmill Sports Centre, Prestonpans, yesterday.
In the 150th running of the 110m handicap, McWilliam is bidding to become the first repeat winner since Willie McFarlane in 1934, and the defending champion took heat two in 11.40secs despite having last year’s 9.75m start cut by 1.5m.
“I’m not going to lie, I did feel a bit anxious and nervous about the heats,” admitted the 23-year-old. “Qualifying is always the most difficult day and you don’t really know what to expect, but the race felt quite comfortable. I was only fifth or sixth-fastest overall, but I had plenty left in the tank. I can relax now and hopefully execute on Tuesday. It’s almost a different race in the semis and final and I’m confident my experience of reaching three finals will help me get through again. I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed racing on January 1st.”
2017 champion Kelly was the quickest of yesterday’s 12 heat winners, clocking 11.25secs in heat six off a start of 5.5m. “I’m very happy to get through safely without having to rely on a fastest loser spot. I can go home and get ready for Tuesday,” said Kelly.
“I ran pretty well, but a couple of others were within a tenth of a second of my time, so it’s all very close. Going from a synthetic track today to grass on Tuesday is very difficult and some people can’t run so well on grass, so it’s like a new race on Tuesday.”
Kelly has been drawn in tomorrow’s opening cross-tie (semi-final) while McWilliam goes in race three, but 2015 winner Cameron Tindle and three other former champions, Leigh Marshall, Daniel Paxton, and 59-year-old Doug Donald, all failed to qualify yesterday.
Backmarker Tindle, off 2.5m, was unable to catch East Kilbride’s Iain McEwan in heat 11 and also missed out on a fastest loser spot. Pitreavie’s Billy Doyle (11.28) went closest to Kelly’s quickest time, while Lasswade’s Rianna Sterricks (11.36) and Murray Blair (11.37) also impressed in winning their heats.